By Marty Gordon
Drone delivery service to Christiansburg homes is just around the corner.
The delivery area will stretch three miles north from the drone nest off Peppers Ferry Road reaching the Belmont community and then west toward Christiansburg High School. Saturday, Wing demonstrated the service at the Belmont Community and Christiansburg Recreation Center. Onlookers watched as the small drone swooped into the area and casually dropped a package.
Information provided by the company shows items that can be delivered weigh no more than 3.3 pounds, the limit the drone can currently handle. Items from Walgreens, Sugar Magnolia (a Blacksburg bakery) and FedEx will be brought to the nest and delivered in less than ten minutes.
Customers must sign up for the company’s Smartphone app at wing.com/united-states/virginia and register for the delivery service.
Individuals who hope to use the service will have to provide a 6’X6’ spot for the drone to drop off the package.
The company has also submitted plans for its launch pad that will be located near Grand Piano. Details given to Christiansburg officials show a small logistic-type building with concrete pads to the west of the building. The company expects drones can be launched from the site by the end of October.
The Federal Aviation Administration certified Alphabet’s Wing Aviation earlier this year to operate as an airline and be the first U.S. drone delivery company. Initially, Wing began as a Google X project touted as a way to reduce carbon emissions and road congestion.
In January, Wing began delivering takeout food from a test facility in Bonython, Australia, as part of its pilot program. Over the past five years, Wing has been developing drones for small parcel delivery. Each aircraft features propellers like those on smaller drones. Typically, the drone will fly up to 100 feet and then lower to 20 feet where a tether line will lower the package to its target.
The drones can be operated only during the day when the weather is clear enough for them to be seen.
Wing has successfully completed more than 3,000 deliveries in Canberra, Australia. The company says, “In Australia’s ACT territory (pop. 419,200), it is estimated that by 2030 drone delivery could reduce traffic congestion by up to 35 million vehicle kilometers each year.”
Other companies are doing similar deliveries. Zipline has been distributing blood by drone in Rwanda. Swoop Aero is dropping vaccines and other medicine in the South Pacific, and JD.com is quickly moving to e-commerce deliveries.
Wing officials say they hope to bring neighborhoods closer together, partnering with local businesses to help them deliver goods to community members within minutes.
The process is simple in Christiansburg. Customers order goods from a merchant via the Wing mobile app. Goods can include meals, beverages, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and other essential goods. After receiving an order, the merchant packs the goods in a specialized package and requests that Wing send a drone to pick up the package.
Wing software automatically calculates the route from the launch site to the customer, taking into account safety and regulatory restrictions. The flight plan is then uploaded to the drone.
The drone launches automatically and proceeds to the merchant pick-up area, then hovers at a safe height above ground (7 meters ) while the merchant connects the package to an extendable tether beneath the drone.
The drone climbs to cruise height and commences forward flight. At the customer destination, the drone hovers and descends to delivery height 7 meters above ground. The drone lowers the tether and automatically releases the package containing the ordered merchandise.
The drone climbs back to cruise height and returns to the Wing site. At the Wing site, the drone lands automatically on a charging pad to prepare for the next delivery.
Customers do not interact directly with the delivery drone.